For over a year I’ve been leading small groups of women through the process of becoming Intuitive Eaters. Without question, it’s the very best work I’ve ever done. Four groups went through the first six weeks, then women who were hungry for more, continued on in ten week master groups. One of the ten week master groups wanted even more and are about to wrap up their twentieth week together.
What I have loved most about leading these women is the honest to goodness, grounded transformation that occurred when we added all this up: time+space+community+compassion+knowledge. This is simply the best formula I know for lasting change, paradigm shifts, and cellular reorganization.
Carolyn is one of the brave, brilliant women in my groups. Upon completing our journey together she shared this manifesto of sorts she wrote for herself based on all I taught. She calls it her “Lovely, Freeing Eating Guide” and after hearing her read it, I knew it had to be shared.
I honor my Holy Hunger as often as possible, letting my body Desire so that the food I eat tastes delicious and nourishes me body, mind and soul.
Before I eat, I ask my body (not my head), what she desires.
When I do eat, whether or not I am hungry, I don’t judge it. I enjoy it. Slowly, one bite at a time, not future or past but just this moment. The texture, the taste, the aroma. Sloooow Pleasure. I also notice how full my stomach is getting.
Throughout the day, I ask my body how She feels and what She needs. What would increase HER pleasure?
I satiate myself with life.
My body can be trusted. I eat, I fill up, I get hungry again.
When eating, I want to be effective. To scratch the itch. If I binge, not only am I NOT scratching the itch, but I’m blocking the resources that will.
When I overeat, I can always ask myself “How can I become more present and alive in this moment?” Or “What is the kindest thing I can do for myself?”
I hit the pause button more before, during and after eating. I notice my thoughts, my emotions, how my body feels. I slow everything down to super slow motion. I breathe, remembering I have lots of options. They are all okay. What does my sweet self want? What’s the most supportive, loving thing I can do for myself in this moment?
That’s the practice.tweet
Simple, yet brilliant, right?
That’s the practice.
I’ll be direct: the holidays will be here before we know it.
It’s already the close of October and at year’s end time has a funny way of speeding up.
It’s become an annual tradition to take a break from sharing wise words to share some of my favorite candidates for holiday gift giving.
You can find the previous year’s gift guides, here:
May this year’s treasures spark your hunger for beauty, inspiration, and generosity.
11. Wisdom Notes for a Well-fed Holiday (Technically registration doesn’t open until 11/3, but I have a hunch if you head over to the Wisdom Notes page you’ll have no trouble signing up.)
I moved to California almost 10 years ago.
I didn’t know anyone here when I made the trek.
All of the sudden I was living 3,000 miles from my family. I had to find housing, employment, and survive in graduate school on my own.
I felt invisible in a town where I had no connections and, at the start, it was a pretty lonely time.
On the one hand I felt separate from those around me and yet I knew deep down that we were all connected. I felt that I was amongst fellow humans and I just needed a way to bridge the gap.
So I told a little itty bitty white lie.
To get a daily boost of connection I began to tell random strangers–at the grocery store, in the steam sauna at the gym, at the bus stop, in waiting rooms–that I was working on a creative writing project (which wasn’t true). I told them I just needed to ask them one question.
The questions i asked would shift. Sometimes I asked “What’s something you’re grateful for?” Sometimes I asked “What’s been your greatest life lesson?” While the questions changed, the way these small moments fed me did not.
Almost every exchange was heart-warming and effortless. On occasion someone would decline my curiosity, but that was the exception in my experience.
This one tiny white lie made a world of difference on days when I’d otherwise have little to no connection with other people.
In the time since then I’ve built a robust community of local friends but when I’m in the cereal aisle or at the dentist, I still feel the urge to reach out and ask the nearest stranger a question that will create a moment of connection. Reflecting back on that time I’m struck by what a sweet and simple little practice.
Perhaps those early California days are what make me sensitive to one of the challenges I see my clients face frequently: making adult friendships. (That and the fact that I went to five schools before college so making new friends and starting over are familiar territory for this sensitive woman).
I’m sharing this piece today to offer you a little exercise if you’re feeling alone or disconnected. If you’re not, I’m sharing it to start a wee conversation (over on my facebook page) about what small ways you find connection, build community, and make new friends.
It’s simply true that we’re all in this together and we’re all the same.
–– Oh, and it’s not lost on me that writing this blog post almost makes that old white lie, a truth.
Pursuing a well-fed life is not one long buffet table of awesome-sauce.
When you agree that your hungers are wise and that you are worthy of being fed, you also agree to experience being hungry.
And most of us don’t enjoy being hungry. In fact, many of us will do anything to avoid this particular flavor of lack.
To avoid feeling our longing and desire we put our hungers in the back of the closet, or in the attic, or behind the stove. Anywhere out of reach of our conscious experience. And to keep them there, we numb ourselves through all the usual suspects: food, shopping, alcohol, staring at screens, and so forth.
And the result of putting our hungers away, in an effort to not feel hungry, is that we are then rarely, if ever, feel fed. Quite simply, it’s hard to feed a hunger that we’re actively denying.
The solution: play the odds.
I can’t promise you that if you walk the path of a Well-Fed Woman that 100% of your hungers will be fed, 100% of the time, with minimal discomfort or waiting.
What I can promise is that the first option—stuffing them down or denying them—has a near 0% success rate when it comes to living a happy life.
The second option—saying yes to your hungers—the option I’m advocating for, will always lead you somewhere very fulfilling.
I can also promise that the discomfort of being hungry won’t kill you. And, perhaps more importantly, I can promise that hunger becomes significantly less uncomfortable the more we have a ‘yes’ relationship to it.
Much of the discomfort we experience around being hungry comes from anxiety and fear that we might not ever be fed or get enough. But women committed to living well-fed lives, over time, we establish a pattern of feeding ourselves and tending to our hungers, such that the anxious (and previously starved) part of us becomes reconditioned to trust that hunger is just a precursor to delicious satiation.
So yes, if you want to be a Well-Fed Woman you will experience periods of hunger. Some will last mere minutes and some will last many years. And the reward for your courage to feel these wise messages will be a life far more satisfying than if you deny your wants.
In my book, this is a risk always worth taking because the odds are in your favor.
You can’t know what will feed you unless you taste it — and taste a lot of other things that don’t feed you.
And sometimes you need to taste something many times before you know if you like it, if you need it, and how much of it is supportive for you.
This will mean tasting things that don’t taste good.
This will mean tasting things that might make you ill.
This will mean tasting things that are almost right, but not quite (Hello, Goldilocks).
If you’re not sure what you are hungry for, start by tasting anything and allowing your wise body and heart to tell you what is satisfying.
This might mean trying out dating a wide range of people.
This might mean a career path that is anything but a straight line.
This might mean asking to sample all 31 flavors when you go for ice cream.
Wouldn’t it be a magical world if we already knew what was right for us before trying anything out, before making a mistake, before embarrassing ourselves, or ruffling any feathers, or hurting feelings, or ‘wasting’ time.
Nah. That world sounds bor-ing.
Tasting the full menu is one of the best parts of life. It allows us to feel grounded in knowing that what we’ve chosen is more right for us, in comparison to what we’ve let go.
When I look back on my life I see a woman who needed to taste some very icky, very off, and very painful things in order to learn what worked.
When you ask yourself “What was I doing back then (in my 20′s or 30′s…)? What was I doing with in that relationship? What was I doing in that dead end job?”
The answer to all of these questions is: “I was tasting.”
Seize your freedom to try new things that might feed you so you can discover what actually does.
Want to be a Well-Fed Woman?
Better get to tasting.
* Note: you can now click and highlight any line in this, or other, blog posts to create a customized tweet. Try it out!
I have never had a drinking problem. In fact, I’m a one drink woman because two puts me to sleep, but I had a therapist once plead with me to go an AA meeting.
She had spent months, maybe years, watching me spin inside my own illusion that my pain was somehow different, that my angst was somehow greater, and that no one could understand my personal hell, at least not without feeling a great deal of judgement towards me.
I was pretty far down the rabbit hole of separation. There was me and there was everyone else. Everyone else had it easier. Everyone else felt more at peace. Everyone else was lovable. Everyone else….everyone else…everyone else….but not me. not poor me.
There was you and there was me.
And none of you, could understand or relate to me or my pain.
So my therapist told me to go an AA meeting. She wanted me to sit in a room with other people, who just like me, suffered. People, who if I passed them in the grocery store aisle, I’d assume had it all together. People who both look like and not like me, but nevertheless feel the same feelings and worry the same worries.
I didn’t end up at an AA meeting, but I did end up in group therapy and the desired effect was just the same. And it was there that something fundamental shifted in me. For ten months, every week, I sat in a room with about ten other women all awash in their shame, their obsessions, their stuff. And it looked an awful lot like my own stuff.
Put simply: I woke up to our sameness. I woke up from the illusion that no one would-could understand the agony I experienced. I woke up from the idea that everyone else, but me, had it together.
Let’s go even further back in time…
At the height of my anorexia, more than a decade ago, I was leaving a dental appointment and stepped into the elevator to leave the building. I rode down with a woman whom I had never met—a stranger. She blatantly eyed my lithe frame up and down. Then said to me “Oooh girl, I only wish I had whatever willpower you’ve got.” Not even a week later I went to get a bikini wax, and laying there on the table, vulnerable, naked, and insecure the waxer said to me “You must work out, you have a perfect body.”
In both of these cases gave a pacifying half smile and I said nothing aloud. Yet inside I was screaming: “I don’t eat! You want the perfect body?! Stop eating! You think it’s willpower? No it’s soul-level terror!”
These women had made assumptions about me. They had placed themselves on one side of line and me on the other. In their mind, they were fat. I was not. They had no willpower, I had it spades. They were lazy, I was on top of my game. They were wild pigs and I was smoothly in control.
Yes, there assumptions were wrong, but the point is that I was doing the same thing.
Me and my pain over here, everyone else over there.
And I needed to wake up. The separation was killing me. Literally.
Recently a client confessed that she had taken money from her office’s petty cash box. She’s paid it all back by now, but the shame of her actions still plagued her. While she seethed with self-judgement, I felt nothing but empathy and our shared humanity.
There isn’t any part of her that’s different than me. I’ve been lost. I’ve made choices that hurt other people. I’ve acted from insecurity. And while I consider myself a person with boatloads of integrity, if you went through my (or your) whole life with a fine tooth comb you could easily find where I’ve faltered.
Over the past six months I’ve noticed myself slip a bit into otherizing. It’s been a natural period of creative fallowness and incubation where it’s all too easy to look at other people who are in creative flow and think, once again, that they are somehow better than me. Them over there, me over here.
This matters to me because when I’m lost in this place I feel half alive, half connected, half of service, and half myself. I know that each of us is here to serve by being full and whole, not dimmed to a mere fifty percent.
I’m naming my own otherizing here for myself and for you, should you find yourself drawing this unhelpful line in the sand.
There is no human experience that we have alone. It’s up to each of us to tear town the chambers of isolation that comparison and fear build.
It’s just you and me, them and us—all together.
That person you idolize. That internet guru. That person you loathe. The bully from high-school. The person on the front of this week’s tabloids. The one who beat you out for that job. The suitor who liked you, that you didn’t like back. The noisy neighbor and the perfect-from-the-outside acquaintance. The criminal and do-gooder. Yep, all of us. Our pains and sorrows. Anxieties and dilemmas. Joys and callings. Sacred reverberating essences.
Say it with me: WE.
Here’s a wonderful and related TED talk from Elizabeth Lesser:
This is how I’ve spent much of the past seven months.
While leading six crazy-courageous groups of women through reading and implementing Intuitive Eating, and many of those women through an additional 10-week alumni intensive, I have become a professional jailbreaker.
At the heart of this work is illuminating something I call The Pendulum and then shepherding the participants to often hard to find off-ramp.
The Pendulum is the seemingly never-ending ride between some form of a restrictive state of mind and overconsumption state of mind. A say ‘state of mind’ here and not ‘behaviors’ because we need only psychologically restrict or overconsume to experience the tortuous ride. That is to say that feeling restricted or believing we have overconsumed is far more significant than behaving either way. The mind is a tricky thing. Certainly, we can (and often do) behave these ways, but it isn’t necessary in order to perpetuate The Pendulum and feel the inevitable mental distress that comes with the back and forth swing.
And back and forth we swing.
These two phases of the cycle manifest in a broad array of ways, but all with the same two flavors.
On the one side we feel in control, high even. Above our hungers and with a sense of calm.
On the flip side we’re in chaos, often experiencing some level of shame and self-loathing. We feel out of control.
You probably already know much of this. After all, this is human nature.
We’re hard wired to react to one swing of The Pendulum with the other. (Read: this is not your fault.)
I’m talking about food here, but this is a universal law of energy and applies to many other aspects of our lives.
Back and forth. Restrict. Overconsume. Feeling like we’re being ‘good’ only to be feel that we’re ‘bad’.
Sometimes minute by minute, hour by hour, or month by month. The time between swings isn’t important. What matters is that we can’t cheat The Pendulum. We can’t game the system. As human beings we’re wired to swing one way if we swing the other.
Unless we step off the ride.
The Off Ramp
Every pendulum has a center point. We must pass through this point on our way from one swing to the other.
We can stop the ride if we can only just slow the momentum and rest in that center point.
We do this by meeting the ride with compassion and nonjudgmental observation, this makes it much easier to slow the swing.
We do this by meeting the moment post-overconsumption with a conscious choice to return to the center (i.e. reject restriction).
We do this by returning to our body. The Pendulum swings are perpetuated by an override of our body’s preferences. The off ramp is found when we decide to cease the override.
Again, the polarity of the ride is hard wired into us. We often think that it is our own failing that leads us to over consume, but rather it is our beautiful and human need to both find soothing and avoid famine (real or psychological) that leads us to the ride.
So what does this look like in real life?
It looks like getting clear on your own unique tendencies toward restriction and overconsumption. It looks like getting to know your triggers and the fears and stories that fuel your ride.
Do you tend to restrict certain types of food? Do you restrict eating at certain times of day? Or is it about limiting quantity?
Where do you find yourself most often past the point of comfortable fullness? When do you find yourself feeling like you need to ‘recommit’ to whatever ‘plan’ or ‘program’ or ‘rules’ you identify with?
Identifying our patterns can be tricky as they are often subtle and entirely socially condoned. You can usually sniff them out by following the thread of where you feel guilty around food.
Draw Your Pendulum
Take a piece of paper and a pen. Draw your pendulum. On the left half write out all the ways you see yourself restricting. On the right half write out all the ways you find yourself overconsuming. Again, these can be restrictive or over consumptive thoughts and fixations, not just behaviors. Track your own pendulum swings. Use arrows. Note your flow. Observe how one sets off a chain reaction that leads back to the other.
If you’re tired of the back and forth, commit to returning to center as often as it takes. (It took me a solid two years of practice) Commit to taking the off ramp as often as you’re able to. Commit to paying loving attention. Commit to not blaming yourself for The Pendulum and accepting that it’s part of how our species operates. Commit to restrict nothing but restriction itself. Commit to using common sense instead of sensationalism when it comes to what to eat. Commit to choosing happiness over thinness. Commit to choosing real life instead of chasing perfection. Commit to being smarter than the false promises of restriction. Commit to breaking yourself out of jail.
Freedom is possible and it’s worth committing to it’s pursuit.
“I am never full.”
“The pain will never stop.”
“There isn’t ever enough love.”
“I will never not want to eat the entire grocery store.”
Many of us walk around with the sensation of deep emptiness.
With that sensation is often a fierce belief that there will never be enough.
Be it food or love—too often we walk the earth feeling as though we are a bottomless pit.
One strategy we use is to try to fill it. With entire bags of chips. With another pair of shoes. With 5 o’clock bottles of wine.
On the flip side, we attempt to cover the bottomless pit with a band aid tale of having minimal needs. This where we tell ourselves we’re fine to subsist on crumbs—literal or metaphoric. We keep it together. We stick to the diet. We keep our muscles toned. We don’t need a partner, or attention, or chocolate cake, we’re fine—or so we tell ourselves.
The sad part is the bottomless pit is an illusion. One that has us running in all directions for temporary salves that aren’t sustainable and never leave us feeling very satisfied.
Your local child protective services agency has shown up at your doorstep with two foster children you are charged with taking care of for a year. They tell you that the children came from a home where there was barely anything to eat.
Over the first few days you notice that one of the children eats until they are sick. They eat quickly and with an anxiety that clearly belays their fear of there not being having enough.
The other child eats very little. Nibbling on this or that but not taking enough sustenance or enjoying the delicious food you have offered. This child is attempting to exert some control where they can. When they wasn’t enough in the past, they told themselves that they didn’t need it as a way to feel a level of control where none was.
And all of this makes sense.
Neither of them can be sure that there will be enough. They can’t yet trust that there will be more food anytime they want, and that they don’t have to eat until they’re sick or continue to deny themselves nourishment.
What you find over the weeks to come though, as they learn that there is enough food and they have as much as they want, when they want, in any quantity they want, is that they normalize. They are each able to eat with enjoyment, relaxation, and able to stop when they are physically sated.
Are you getting the metaphor?
Our lives are the home where there will always be enough food.
The question is whether we are willing to heal the trauma of our deprivation by ceasing to deny ourselves. It is we who too often deny ourselves the love we long for. It is we who too often deny ourselves the food or pleasure we hunger for.
The result is that we feel like a bottomless pit.
And all along we had our hand on our own spigot able to turn it on and let it flow.
The trick is to turn the spigot on and don’t turn it off until we’ve had enough – and we find the point of ‘enough’ after a period of reconditioning ourselves to know that there will always be more.
We must let it flow long enough to teach the part of us that is traumatized from deprivation that there will always be enough. What we find when we do this is that that part of us relaxes.
What we find is that the bottomless pit, the one that never existed in the first place, disappears.